Hemingway's Chair

Hemingway's Chair is a Michael Palin novel, first published in the mid-1990s. I've recently read it - well, listened to it twice on audiobook, as a matter of fact - and I thought I'd share my opinions and see what anyone else's were.

First of all, I would definitely recommend this book - it has that Palinesque awkward charm, and his somehow compelling dullness that I've mused over in other posts! Don't go for this if you're a fast-paced thriller fan, but it is enjoyable: a fascinatingly peculiar main character, well-constructed dialogue, some gentle but still laugh-out-loud humour, and a really good ending.

Python fans will recognise the main character, Martin Sproule, as classic Palin. The first time you 'see' him in the book, he's wearing a bobble hat and an anorak, and riding a bicycle. Immediately the voice of Gulliver in The Cycling Tour calling 'Mr Pither! Mr Pither!' came into my head! That's where it stops being Pythonesque, though. It's the story of an obsessed Ernest Hemingway fan who's in his mid-thirties and works at a post office. He's fighting against its modernisation under the evil eye of a smarmy management type who just might have a more sinister side. Meanwhile, he's trying to emulate his hero, Hemingway, as well as raise the funds to buy an expensive piece of memorabilia: a fishing chair in which the man himself had sat. On this difficult path Martin meets an American academic named Ruth, who's the only person who knows as much about Hemingway as Martin does, but unfortunately she's not a fan.

The book is basically an argument for traditional English village life, reflecting similar worries about the dismantling of local communities and modernisation for its own sake as Palin observes in his own 'voice', in his '70s diaries. It's also an interesting study of fandom. It's nicely written, and occasionally exciting.

Oh yes, and if anyone likes audiobooks I'd definitely recommend this one: Palin reads the story very well, especially when Martin is drunk and conducting a one-sided conversation with his hero. He's delightfully inept at Ruth's American accent, but that's the only weakness, and for me it adds to the charm of the performance.

Over to you guys!

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J.Gambolputty: I was planning to byt this somewhere, but didn't find it! Blimey, it makes me mad..

J.Gambolputty at 11:23 am October 25

I'll take that upper one back, 'cause I found it!
And I'm going to order it (at least for christmas..)

mrsCutout: OMG! I've been wanting this book for years now! I can't find it anywhere here! Ugh I hate it I hate it! *Snif* Anyway I am so glad you enjoyed it I read some excerpts on-line once and I thought it was fascinating!

kisch at 11:26 am October 25

It's easily ordered via here : www.alibris.com - that's how I got mine!

thewhoserpython: Ahhh it's so good someone has opened a forum on this. I read it back in April and got so into it, it only took me five days. Yes, Martin immediately became Mr Pither in my head, but the book was so well written. It had that charm Palin has when he narrates his travel series and I found it a very easy and gentle book. The bit which stunned me the most was the 'sex' scene between Martin and Ruth, it wasn't too smutty and quite gripping but still, to have dear modest Michael write such things, well, I have to admit, I liked it. :) I'd recommend it to any Palin fan. It also gives a great insight to Ernest Hemingway, who I have grown to love more through this book and the Hemingway Adventure travel series. :)

Here Comes Another One at 3:11 am October 25

I thought the sex scene was very well done. It seemed to be there as a reality, not to be erotic (tho' I can think of a few people on this forum who might like to hear the audio version!)

genji: It does sound interesting, and I wasn't aware of it. Another one to put on the list.

I think I'd prefer to read it than listen to an audiobook. In fact I don't think I've ever tried an audiobook. Are they usually shortened versions?

Here Comes Another One at 12:36 am October 25

Not always. Sometimes. Hemingway's Chair isn't.

kisch at 11:21 am October 25

If you happen to read the book, you'll find that audiobook is slightly abridged. Believe me, I compared. The are 2 versions of audiobook, one is more full than the other, but still not totally complete.

kisch at 11:24 am October 25

And btw I love this book and I wish he'd written more fiction. I also loved his play, The Weekend - although it was generally considered as a flop, I still think it's a great play.
Do you know that he's actually writing his second novel at the moment. It's called The Truth (or at least Amazon.co.uk says so) and is to be released somewhere in 2012. I can't wait!

Here Comes Another One at 6:28 pm October 25

Oh, that's fantastic! I'll be pre-ordering that!

genji at 1:38 am October 25

How long does it last, then? I would think somebody reading it out loud would take far longer than reading it to yourself, which itself could take eight or twelve hours. Or am I missing the point?

Here Comes Another One at 3:04 am October 25

OK, I've been examining my audiobook collection. Hemingway's Chair IS abridged actually; the version I had didn't say but the iTunes version is the same length & it said abridged, so I guess Audible was misleading! But anyway, it's about 3hrs. I also have several Agatha Christie novels & they're about 6.5-7 hours on average, unabridged. I guess they're about average novel length - Dracula, which is large, is 15hrs unabridged. I hope that gives you an idea.